August 9, 2018

Warning: How To Protect Yourself Online



Those of us over 65 are active users of the Internet. Estimates are that 66% of U.S. seniors use the Internet on a regular basis. Not unlike younger folks, a fair number of us are connected for a good part of the day, either through a computer or our smartphone, or both. We may not adapt to the latest technology as quickly as others. But, once something proves itself to be useful to us, we are not being left behind.

Of course, that means we are just as vulnerable to all the bad stuff that happens online. The latest figures I could find say that a new computer virus or malware program is created every 4 seconds. The absurdity of people finding new ways to hurt others at such a relentless pace is a subject for another post. This time, I'd like to focus on some practical ways we can protect our online selves.

This list is not exhaustive, but a good start. Please leave a comment with any other hints or warnings you have found to be important. One caution: I will not post any links to web site addresses. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that some spammer would add a link to a post about viruses that turns out to be infected!

1). Buy legitimate software from a recognized dealer or online merchant. This will be more expensive but is a basic safety step to take. While Ebay, for example, is a tremendous place for a lot of things, I would not buy software, new or used, from any merchant listed there. Garage sales? Same rule. 

2) Keep all software updated. Windows-based software is vulnerable to constant attacks. Updates or software patches to correct vulnerabilities are issued constantly. Apple is less vulnerable, but not immune. Keep everything up-to-date.

3). Never click a link in an email unless you are very sure it is safe. Friends can unknowingly pass along computer viruses. Social media links are notoriously risky. A link that takes you from one web site to another may not be what it seems. Look carefully at the computer address you are being redirected to. If it doesn't look legitimate don't click it.

4). Use anti-virus, anti-malware software on all your connected devices, including smartphones.  Keep them updated. Scan all your files on a regular basis. There are several good free programs that will protect you from most threats. For $40-$70 you can get more protection and more piece of mind. Your computer also comes with something called a Firewall. Be sure it is turned on and functioning.

5. Use pop-up ad blockers. Chrome, Edge and Firefox have add-ons that block a lot of the ads that appear on your screen. If they are not there you won't be tempted to click something that might be dangerous.

6. Use strong passwords. It is amazing how many of us still use passwords like, "12345" or "password." Even obvious choices like your birthdate or old phone number are simple for a bad actor to crack. A combination of upper and lower case letters, interspaced with random numbers and punctuation marks is best.

7. Back up important computer files regularly. It is best to use an external hard drive or cloud-based storage system. If you only back up files directly to your computer and it becomes badly infected, your stored files will do you little good.

8. Never, ever, take an online poll or answer questions about yourself on a social media post or smartphone app, like "answer these 10 questions to find out where you should live." You are giving away private information that could lead to a malware attack. At the very least, you are helping advertisers target you with a constant barrage of ads. One exception: I will occasionally add a poll to this blog. That one is safe!

9. Don't leave your computer connected to the Internet when you are not using it. That allows for the potential of someone entering your computer through your router and leaving something nasty. When you are finished using it, delete all your browsing history and shut it down---not just let it go into sleep mode, but turn it off.

10). Use the alert service offered by your banks and credit card companies. If your balance falls or an unusual charge is made with a credit or debit card, you will be instantly notified. That could be your first sign of some type of computer virus that is allowing others to steal your financial information.

11. If you do suffer a ransomware attack, do not pay. There will be no end to the demands and no guarantee the person will actually remove the damaging software. Immediately try the Control-Alt-Delete action to go to the Task Manager. Try to shut down the offending software. If that doesn't work, unplug your computer from the wall.  There are some things to try if you are computer savvy, but they are beyond the scope of this post.

Once you have calmed down, take the computer to a repair service, like the Geek Squad or Data Doctors. They may be able to wipe the offending ransomware from your system. 




We live in a strange world where very smart people spend their lives trying to make our lives unpleasant or dangerous. The best we can do is take precautions that will make the job of the bad people tougher.



14 comments:

  1. Good info here. I would also like some info on iPad security. I no longer have a PC and I only use my cell phone for talk and text although I can access the Internet...
    Any safety tips here and I'm sure a lot of folks use their phones exclusively..tips here would be appreciated as well I'm sure.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. iPads don't have nearly as many security issues as Windows-based devices. That said, some malware and viruses have been detected that are trying to find iPad weaknesses. For the moment, you don't need antivirus or malware software in the iPad, but that could change at any time.

      There are a few basic steps you should take to protect your security. There is a setting that allows you to remotely wipe everything off your iPad if there is sensitive information you don't want a thief to see. Find my iPad app lets you locate your device if it goes missing.

      Obviously, a strong password and encryption of your data help if someone does make off with your device. And, never download a third-party app to your iPad. Only trust something that comes from the Apple Store.

      Good question, Mary. Thanks for asking.

      Delete
  2. It's really sad how many hackers are out there. What do they have to gain? It's beyond me. I have a good tech adviser and I try to stay on top of what the latest crazy virus is. It's a constant battle.
    b

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If these people would just use their skills in as positive way wouldn't they make a good living? Skilled computer people can pretty much write their own ticket.

      Delete
    2. So true! It makes no sense to me. But, lately, there's not much going on in this crazy world that makes sense to me.

      Delete
  3. I have my entire house sound system run through and by my computer so I leave it on 24 hours a day as well as connected to the internet for radio station streams and Spotify for music. The reality is I don't want to go through a computer boot up before I can listen to the news on the "radio" in the morning, or if I'm out having my wife boot up the computer if she wants to listen to something. On the plus side I have anti-virus anti-malware software running at all times, do operating systems upgrades as soon as they become available, have a password generator (that remembers them for me) and I store all my files in the cloud. In this always connected world that is only going to become more so I think this is just how it is going to be. So far, over several years, I haven't had any issues (have I just been lucky?)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I assume you have a password protected router!

      Delete
    2. I do indeed have a strong-password protected router :-)

      Delete
  4. I am typing this from the local library, next door, before work. I do not have a home computer. I figure I spend enough time before computers to ruin my eyes...lol. I listen to a regular thirty dollar radio, and listen to the regular radio in the car. I did have a smart phone, but found I wasted too much time on facebook, so when it died, I replaced it with a 30 buck talk and text phone. I bank at the bank down the street. Just call me a Luddite...lol. Seriously, I do worry about my financials being accessed, which is why I do nothing on line.
    Still, that is not foolproof.....nothing is.....and I check my accts regularly and have them flagged by the bank for any unusual activity. I do not use a debit card anymore for gas after a horrible experience with one of those skimmers. I just pay in cash, and go get it when needed, since the bank is down the street.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your way of dealing with the reality of an upside down world is not all that unusual anymore. I know a few folks who use cash for almost everything to avoid the problems you mention.

      Unfortunately, there is no foolproof method. Several years ago our neighborhood mailbox was being broken into on a regular basis: someone was stealing the outgoing mail to get credit card account information. Eventually, the Post office sealed the outgoing slot and we had to drive several miles to the nearest blue box to send mail.

      Experiences like that made paying online seem safer. Now, we know that is misplaced trust since computer hackers are much more common than mail thieves.

      BTW, thank you very much for taking the time to leave your comment by going to the library for computer access. I appreciate your efforts.

      Delete
  5. They steal the mail to get checks. They wash the checks and write in a different name and amount and cash them. This happened to me. They even washed off my signature and still the check cleared. I got the money back, but it is a lot of aggravation. If you must write checks use a gel pen. That is hard to erase. The police recommended the uniball 207. I now charge most things and pay my credit card bill online. If you must mail a check, do it at the post office.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I am aware of check washing. I think that is one of the reasons Social Security stopped sending checks to people (plus the cost). In my case the thieves were stealing outgoing mail for both checks and account information. What a mess.

      Delete
  6. Thanks for the tips, Bob. Ever since I have been using Apple hardware, I have had few malware problems. However, I do most of the things you say — the hackers are endlessly inventive! Even big institutions like universities with IT teams and strong firewalls still have phishing attacks and other spam slip through.

    One that has been troubling us in Canada recently are messages from what appears to be the Canada Revenue Agency, our federal tax department. They look quite legitimate and try to persuade the recipient to click a link to get a tax refund.

    Jude

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That happens south of your border, too. The ability of some criminals to design emails or web sites that look completely legitimate can make things dangerous.

      Generally, I follow two rules: I look at the address of the email (what follows https://)./ if it has something after .com like .ru that indicates it came from another country and is fake. Secondly, no legitimate government organization or financial institution will ask for private information by email. If I get such a notice I will call or go to the appropriate website myself to see if there is something I must do. To click on a link in one of the phishing emails is the worst thing to do.

      Delete

Inappropriate comments will be deleted